The term "mentoring" originated from Homer’s Odyssey : before his departure for Troy, Ulysses asks Mentor, his most loyal friend, to take charge of the education of his son Telemachus during his absence.

In the 17th century, In Fénelon’s “The Adventures of Telemachus”, Mentor is an important character who escorts the hero everywhere. At the end of the novel Mentor’s true identity is revealed : he is none other than the goddess Athena who has disguised herself as Mentor to guide and help Telemachus. Henceforth, the name Mentor has designated the role of the counsellor and educator of someone younger and less experienced.

Mentoring programmes in French-speaking Switzerland 

The equal opportunities offices at Latin universities offer several mentoring programmes free of charge for researchers at the universities concerned. For the moment they are reserved for women.

The academic career path is strewn with pitfalls for all members of the new generation of academics, but the pitfalls encountered are not equally distributed in terms of gender. Indeed, "The analyses of data from the Swiss Higher Education Information System (SHIS) show that, at the transition points under investigation (doctorate and habilitation), disproportionately large numbers of women fall out of the academic system in comparison to men" ( Leemann & Stutz , 2008, p.5). These abandonments and expulsions can especially be ascribed to the shortcomings regarding integration and lack of support of young female researchers, who are less spontaneously supervised by faculty members than their masculine counterparts. In fact, "[a]fter the doctorate, women receive less career-specific support from senior academics, male or female, in the sense of mentoring. This is one of the most significant factors leading to the dis- proportionate drop-out rate of women from the academic field. As the results for the doctoral phase show, career-specific support increases the likelihood of remaining in the academy and undertaking research abroad; it also increases the chances of receiving further support from mentors at later career stages, promotes the submission of applications for fellowships at the SNF, supports the development of an academic network and increases publication output." (ibid., p.7) 

The StartingDoc programme is a group mentoring programme for women at the very beginning of their academic career. It focuses on the key moment of starting a thesis project. StartingDoc is intended for female doctoral students starting their PhD at the Universities of Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, and Neuchâtel and EPFL.

REGARD workshops (pages in French) for future women academics deal in particular with the thesis (methodology, oral examination), visibility of scientific work (publications, communication techniques, networking), as well as the preparation of job applications (portfolio, academic CV, appointment procedures). The workshops are intended for female doctoral students at the Universities of Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel and Italian-speaking Switzerland.

The Réseau romand de mentoring pour femmes (pages in French) offers an individual mentoring programme for women, backed up by broad-based meetings designed to increase contacts and exchanges. It is targeted more towards women at an advanced stage of their doctorate. Via mentoring, it is designed to help resolve practical difficulties linked with the organisation of academic life and the carrying out of scientific projects. The Réseau romand also aims to create a network of contacts among women at French-speaking Swiss universities allowing them to exchange information and increase the chances of success of the new generation of female academics.

The University of Lausanne also offers a mentoring programme for the members of its Faculty of Biology and Medicine (open to women as well as men).